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Book Launch: In Search of 'Good' Energy Policy

20 September 2019

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Reported by CSaP Communications Coordinator Kate McNeil

“There’s almost no problem in the real world you can solve with a single approach”, stressed Simon Sharpe, Head of International Climate Strategy at BEIS. Mr. Sharpe was speaking to a lively crowd who had gathered in the reading rooms of the British Academy to participate in a knowledge exchange between policymakers and the contributing authors of the book In Search of ‘Good’ Energy Policy. The event was co-hosted by CSaP and Energy@Cambridge to mark the book’s release. The book, which was introduced to the audience by editor and contributing author Marc Ozawa, emerged from a four-year series of seminars hosted by CRASSH as part of the Energy@Cambridge Interdisciplinary Research Centre Grand Challenge, brings together a diverse array of voices from 12 disciplines and 3 continents to examine this “multi-layered, nuanced, and non-obvious” subject.

Ofgem’s Marcia Poletti framed the night’s discussion by describing energy as a wicked problem, while emphasising the gaps that remain between questions troubling policymakers and current areas of research in this field. Meanwhile, Dr David Reiner reflected that the tendency for social scientists to look at energy policy using solely the lens they use for everything else must be adjusted to the elephant in the room – the need for a wholesale rethinking of the way that politics are understood. In this vein, Dr Charlotte Johnson highlighted that the energy policy touches upon questions of social norms and values, identity, reciprocity, material culture, power, gender and family.

Solving problems in energy policy involves addressing the energy trilemma of security, affordability, and sustainability, and while UCL’s David Bent proposed that there has been a fundamental shift in people’s understanding of climate and energy issues, the societal and business cases for sustainable energy policy are still not linked often enough. Rather than perpetuating the climate emergency, he believes we should be imagining a virtuous circle of plausible solutions to today’s challenges. For these solutions to succeed, the science, engineering, economics, social benefit, and business case for a policy solution will have to stand up. Moreover, as emphasized by Professor David Newberry, successful policy solutions will be ones that people want, and which receive public buy-in.

While Mr. Sharpe emphasised that ‘clean’ energy sources are going to remain more expensive than ‘dirty’ energy for the foreseeable future, both Mr. Sharpe and Professor Michael Pollitt told the audience that there are success stories in the energy policy world worth celebrating. London’s focus on clear air in the 1950s, Russian gas cooperation during the cold war, the UK’s carbon price floor, and successes in Danish energy policy demonstrate that there are smaller problems within this domain we have been able to solve. As society seeks solutions to today’s policy challenges, Dr. Leslie-Anne Duvic-Paoli stressed that public participation in energy activities is a recommended best practice for those developing energy policies. Throughout the evening, others also emphasised the importance of politics, the political economy, diversity of thinking within government, and the role of individuals within institutions as factors which can help drive change and development in this area.

In Search of ‘Good’ Energy Policy is available from Cambridge University Press. You can buy the book here, learn more about the project here and see videos from the series here.

Kate McNeil

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge